Saturday, October 31, 2009

His Chosen Bride

His Chosen Bride by Alexandra Bassett

When Nathan Cantrell left the army he expected to come home to his happy childhood home, The Willows. Unfortunately he finds out that his father has left him a home mortgaged to the hilt by his next door neighbor Sir Harlan. Severely stressed by this turn of events Nathan decides a good dip in the river will do him good and it is there he meets a fascinating and provoking water nymph. When he goes to confront Sir Harlan over the debts, Harlan makes him an offer: marry one of his three daughters in exchange for cash and the releasing of the mortgages. Nathan is not pleased especially when he learns that Harlan's daughter's are Violet, the self-important widow of a marquess's heir, Abigail, the sickly and drab middle daughter, and Sophy, the flirt barely out of the schoolroom. But he is dumbstruck when he discovers that Abigail is in fact the water nymph from the pond! Abigail isn't too happy with this turn of events as she becomes convinced that Nathan is trying to seduce her sisters and believes that it is Nathan holding something over her father's head.

Nathan desperately wants to convince Abigail to marry him, but is terrified she'll find out about his deal with her father. Meanwhile Abigail has been using her "sickly" excuse as a means to stay home and write her gothic novels, which she publishes under a pen name and are quite well read. Things progress fairly nicely until Nathan comments on the Georgianna Harcourt "silly" novels. He tries to patch things up, but it is only a misunderstanding that makes Abigail believe they have a chance. She believes Nathan has written her a poem, but it was in fact written by Freddy for Sophy. When that's cleared up she is once again furious at him, but her father has gone and annoucned their engagement anyway. When she discovers the bargain Sir Harlan struck with Nathan Abigail runs off to London to stay with her Aunt. Nathan uses the opportunity to follow her and hit her aunt up for an investment in his wool-producing factory. Eventually Abigail realizes that she is punishing herself as well as Nathan by holding her grudge and as the two race to save her father's paecocks they're both able to admit that they're in love.

Bassett has only written one other book, "My Favorite Marquess," which takes place after this and features the top-lofty Violet finally meeting her peer, and the two are similar in many ways. The characters in "His Chosen Bride" are perfect: well-developed, fun, interesting, frustrating, and incredibly readable. Each of them by themselves is such a great character it makes scenes where out two main protagonists aren't even there seem like great reading. I loved Sir Harlan's bizarre obsession with birds, Violet and the butlers snobbery, Sophy's flirty ways, Freddy's attempts to become the next Lord Byron, and Aunt Augusta's crazy flightiness. The dialogue is beautifully written with some great banter, and while I know I complain about characters who seem to communicate only in banter and sparing, this is done very well and is mixed in with some real conversations. The mix-ups with the letter and then with Abigail's identity as Georgianna Harcourt were fun and entertaining and not at all drawn out to the point where they became more irritating than fun.

The only complaint I have with this book is the, almost, complete lack of steam. The scene at the beginning where the two meet while swimming makes it very obvious that Abigail and Nathan are VERY attracted to each other and definitely brings up hope that this will be a very steamy book, but alas it was not to be. There were a couple very brief kissing scenes and in the last two pages there is one even more brief sex scene that wasn't at all hot. The relationship was very realistically developed and I wish the author had fulfilled this part of their relationship as well as she did everything else between these two. The book wasn't as fast paced as many romance novels are these days, but I believe this is because the author spent more time developing all the characters and exploring their interactions and feelings for each other.

Rating: I absolutely loved this book and the lack of sex was the only bad thing I could think of as being less than perfect. Really wish the author would work on this. Also really wish the author finally gets around to publishing Sophy's story, although no word as of now as to when this will happen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Laird Who Loved Me

The Laird Who Loved Me by Karen Hawkins

During the season Caitlyn Hurst and Alexander MacLean engaged in a heated, brief, and very tempestuous affair that ended when Caitlyn's plans to trick MacLean into marriage ended up with Alexander's brother, Hugh, married to Caitlyn's twin sister, Catriona. Despite the marriage working out very well for both parties MacLean is determined to have his revenge against Caitlyn so he convinced his onetime paramour, the Duchess of Roxburge, to invite Caitlyn to a house party where he intends to completely ruin her. However things don't go precisely as planned (as usual in a romance novel) and from the get go MacLean and Caitlyn have quite a difficult time of keeping their hands off each other and he can't help but getting jealous each time another man watches her, touches her, makes her laugh, etc.... He is struck with the urge to posses her and claim her as are most romance novel heroes. Caitlyn feels guilty over the way thing worked out between the two of them, but believes that, because everything worked out, that MacLean needs to forgive her.

MacLean and Caitlyn can't help but challenge each other and it isn't long before the two of them make a wager, although Caitlyn was definitely prodded along by MacLean who knows she can't resist a challenge. The each will choose 3 tasks for the other to complete and if MacLean wins Caitlyn will be his mistress (openly) for two weeks and if Caitlyn wins than MacLean will propose on bended knee- and Caitlyn has threatened to accept. Both enter with the intent of "revenge" or pride but it isn't long before they both realize their feelings are changing, even if they try to deny it. Caitlyn feels bad when one of MacLean's tasks injures him and MacLean finds his opinion of Caitlyn as the frivolous school-girl vanishing as he witnesses her determination, hard-work, and friendliness with the servants. As they unsuccessfully fight their attraction to each other and rethink what they each want from the other, MacLean is terrified that he will fall for Caitlyn and marry her only to have her regret marrying an old man and other people in the party aren't eager to see them get their happily ever after.

While officially a stand alone anyone who hasn't already read "Sleepless in Scotland" (Hugh and Catriona's story) will inevitably be missing quite a chunk of backstory as many references are made to Caitlyn's follies that lead to Hugh and Catriona marrying, but it isn't really explained at all. If one can get over this than it won't be too much of a problem, although there are also many references to the MacLean curse (of controlling the weather) which is not explored as in depth in this story as in the other MacLean stories (something I did not mind at all as it always just seemed a little ridiculous). Another aspect of this story that the book keeps referring back to is their passionate little affair back in London; it is literally brought up constantly. However, don't bother reading Sleepless as that's not even talked about in that story either. This was a definite no-no for me; referring to a past between the character's in fine, but I feel like we missed so much of their courtship right off the bat. The book also refers to the vast age difference between MacLean and Caitlyn and while we know Caitlyn is 23 we never learn MacLean's real age.

I like the amount of time spent on MacLean's issue of being older than Caitlyn; oftentimes in this circumstance the hero would spend a paragraph thinking about the age difference, but in this book it really is an actual issue because he had had a friend who had committed suicide after marrying a much younger woman who no longer loved him. I also enjoyed reading about MacLean's struggles with his emotions about Caitlyn and their progression from bitterness to confusion to lust to admiration to (finally) love. Unfortunately Caitlyn's emotions weren't as heavily explored and by the end I was kind of left with the feeling that Caitlyn certainly enjoyed MacLean's body I couldn't really sense any deeper emotions. And for a couple that spends nearly every waking second thinking about gettin the other naked there is very little steam; a few semi-hot kissing scene, 1 very brief sex scene, and a whole lot of talk about his cock getting hard looking at her ass; lots of talk and very little action. And of course the cover- it is not good.

Rating: Aside from MacLean's POV parts where he's thinking about Caitlyn I liked very little of this book. it was remotely satisfying so it's not a one but it's definitely not up to a three.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And Then He Kissed Her

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

The first book in the Girl Bachelor series, And Then He Kissed Her is the story of Ms. Emma Dove, the very competent secretary to Lord Harrison Marlowe, the most successful publisher in London. For five years Emma has been Harry's lifeline; buying presents for his family for all major occasions, as well as presents for his mistresses, kept his appointment book and made sure he kept the appointments, and generally kept his office and his staff from falling apart. Having grown up with her controlling army father and her fastidious governess aunt, Emma is a near expert on proper behavior and has tried for years to get an etiquette book published. Harry has repeatedly turned down her manuscripts claiming they weren't quite up to snuff, but Emma is horrified when she learns that Harry has never actually read more than a couple paragraphs of any of her books. On her 30th birthday Emma realizes that she has spent her entire life waiting and decides to take matters into her own hands. She quits her job at Marlowe publishing and gets her book published as a serial at a rival newspaper.

Harry is furious and yet he can't help but admire, not to mention feel intensely passionate about, the new Emma who is proving so much better than the stern, uptight spinster she had always appeared. For reasons he can't fathom he finds it impossible to get Emma out of his head and is determined to get her back into his life. He buys out the newspaper Emma now works for and both find their new working relationship much improved over their previous one as the two are now on more equal footing. Harry is frustrated over Emma's morals standing in the way of a romantic relationship between them and challenges her to give up her aunt's propriety. Emma knows that Harry is determined never to marry after his disastrous first marriage ended in divorce but she decides now is the time to embark on the "spring of her life" and the two spend two months together until Emma figures out that being Harry's weekend illicit affair isn't enough for her; she is ready to admit what she wants and what she wants is to spend the rest of her life with the man she loves.

Harry and Emma are wonderful characters and both were written so skillfully and their characters develop so much throughout the course of the novel. Emma is forced to confront her past of an uncaring father and an overly rigid aunt while Harry's development from the dissolute rake to a man desperately in love are both realistic and incredibly enjoyable to read. The two are perfect foils for each other as they each challenge the other to become better people, deal with their problems head on, and fall in love with each other. The scenes between the two cover the full range of emotions from gut-wrenching to laughing to passion to crying and are just so beautiful. As usual Guhrke does a stand up job writing from both Emma and Harry's point of view and the reader is always well informed about what each of them is thinking and just like everything else, it's very well written. Even the fact that they'd worked together for five years without anything happening doesn't stand in the way of my enjoyment (as it might) because her character progression is just so brilliant.

Unlike many of Guhrke's earlier works this one contained quite a bit of steam even if it did happen to be packed quite heavily towards the end. There was one very interesting scene involving peaches and honey that was especially fun and overall Guhrke just really stepped up this element of story writing. (Unfortunately this was actually written prior to the other two books I've reviewed- so perhaps a more adequate statement would be that she started slacking off. Hopefully that won't continue.) Guhrke seems to inspire quite mixed emotions among readers who either love her writing or hate her. For this review I once again read the reviews on amazon and can say with assurance that I had no problems with everything people who gave her poor reviews for. Almost all the problems had to deal with the characters actions, mainly Emma's, but Guhrke did such a splendid job giving the back ground of both protagonists, showing how and why each of them changes and grows as a person that their actions and reactions are really not at all difficult to understand.

Rating: A very character driven novel with a strong plot that absolutely sparkled. This really was a 4 1/2 heart book, but I do reserve 5 hearts for absolutely perfect books and while this book is VERY close, not quite.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Don't Tempt Me

Don't Tempt Me by Loretta Chase

Zoe Lexham was kidnapped when she was 12 years-old while her parents were traveling around Egypt and spent the next 12 years as the pampered 2nd wife of the favorite son of Ushri Pasha. She learned how to run a household of eunuchs and woman, how to navigate the dangerous female back stabbings in the harem and how best to please a man. Zoe was Karim's favorite toy and he showered her with jewels but he was impotent so Zoe is virginal. When Karim and his father die Zoe takes the opportunity to run away and claim the life she was meant to live. Once in England she find that the harem didn't prepare her at all for the life of an English lady. She can't stop from saying and doing things that would scandalize the proper members of the ton such as openly talking about her breasts or throwing herself under a falling carriage to rescue a boy. Lucien de Gray, Duke of Marchmont, has regarded Lord Lexham as a father figure- ever since his own parents, and then his older brother, died. He takes it into his head to repay Lexham by using his influence to bring Zoe out into society.

It doesn't take Marchmont long to realize he has his hands full trying to make her ready for society, but first he needs to tackle the rampant stories regarded "The Harem Girl." It doesn't help in the least that he has immense difficultly keeping his hands off the very provocative Zoe whom he quickly discovers adheres to the motto "proper on the top and wicked on the bottom." He finally achieves what everyone else regarded as impossible and Zoe is very successfully presented to the queen but it proves too much for him and he finally marries her a mere 30 days after their first meeting. For the first time in his adult life Lucien finds himself caring for someone beside himself and wanting to make someone else happy. He is forced to begin taking on responsibilities, instead of foisting them off on his servants as Zoe comes in and shakes up his household. When Zoe discovers that things are not as tranquil as they appear it causes an uproar that puts her in danger of her life and tempts Marchmont into taking away the freedom Zoe risked her life for back in Egypt.

I liked the idea that the two had been destined for each other since childhood and would have ended up together, albeit as much much much diferent people, as they were both connected and drawn to each other at a young age. This is also tied in with the idea that it was only after Zoe disappeared that his life became so boring or at least uninspiring. At least his progression is realistic as his life changes so dramatically when Zoe re-enters it and when she moves into his house and it just makes sense that he too would change. However Zoe is a different story; she kicks at him, she throws things at him, she runs away from him, she punches him repeatedly while he kisses her (despite the fact that she even admits she likes it- something that drives me NUTS!)- basically does things we all learn not to do long before we're 12 and something she definitely would have learned in the world of the harem. It just made her seem childish and very easily got on my nerves. The chemistry between them was hot enough, but far from spectacular and the book was missing the passion of most Chase books.

The book's plot had enormous potential and certainly led to some funny scenes involving Zoe's overly proper and very prudish sister's, but I feel as though the very fact that Zoe was a virgin was kind of a letdown. If she'd wanted a truly scandalous former Harem Girl, surely a little prior action would have been required. (See Bold Destiny by Jane Feather) My favorite scene was one involving Marchmont and Zoe being discovered in a very compromising position by Zoe's sister Priscilla and Zoe's maid who use an umbrella to beat the two off each other. There was very little, if any angst, in the novel, but it did not feel as though the book was lacking because of that. The lacking came from other sources; the lack of sparkle in the dialogue, the not so well written steamy scenes, Zoe's childishness, Marchmont's inability to rouse any sympathy, and a villain and a murder plot that seemed as if they had just been thrown in there to take up the requisite 370-ish pages.

Rating: By far my least favorite of all Chase's novels (I've read 4) that lacked all the of the wonderful things one would expect from her books. All in all, unspectacular but still somewhat satisfying.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Someone to Watch Over Me

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

When Grant Morgan discovers that the floater in the river is notorious London courtesan Vivien Duvall he is excited at the prospect of getting revenge on the woman who humiliated him by claiming that she had rejected his advances. Things don't go precisely as planned though when Vivien wakes up with no memory of what happened to her when she was attacked and left for dead and no memory of her life at all. It is Grant who reminds her that she was a prostitute available to the highest bidder and Vivien is horrified. Her actions are far from those he and his staff expected from a courtesan as she appears modest, grateful for the help the servants offer, and, contrary to what he had been told, ashamed of her past and the idea of having sex for money. But he still goes on to tell her that he and she were lovers, although he does tell her that they don't need to resume that part of their relationship immediately. Her un-whore-like behavior is quickly changing Grant's mind about this woman he had previously despised.

It doesn't take long at all for Grant to know that he's made a horrible mistake even if he does refuse to admit it to himself. With no clues as to what happened to Vivien Grant interviews her former clients and decides to "shock" her would-be-murder with a surprising experience at a ball where Vivien discovers that she had been pregnant. After the ball Grant admits that he's fallen for Vivien and simultaneously discovers that there is no way his Vivien is the real one (she's a virgin!). Conveniently Grant also discovers a letter the real Vivien had written to a cottage and when he arrives he discovers the real Vivien. Victoria, as he now knows her to be has been left in the keeping another Bow Street runner while Grand does his investigating and it isn't long before Grant is forced to rush back to London to rescue Victoria from the man who had mistaken her for her twin sister. A heroic rescue attempt ensues and when all the cards are lain on the table Victoria is the one left with the decision to make: whether she is going to move on with her life or stay stuck in the her lonely cottage.

Surprisingly enough this is the first Kleypas I have reviewed on here as she was at one point my favorite historical romance writer. While that has changed I still have a soft spot in my heart for her and read all of her books that I can get my hands on. Her books are universally satisfying, sweet, well-written, and interesting and fast enough for a fun read. This book contains all of those elements as well as some great characters. I had never before realized though that her steamy scenes are so ... formulaic is the only way I can think to describe it. My guess is that if I lined them all up and read the scenes one right after teh other I would notice immense similarities- something that many authors do, I'm sure, but it just seems so obvious in this novel. Nothing too exciting in that department here. There is, of course, a great little bit of angst over Vivien being a possible whore and Grant possibly not wanting to be with a woman he believes is a whore.

There seems to be an okay now in romance novels for prostitutes and courtesans to be acceptable heroines (To Seduce an Angel by Mary Balogh, Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase) but Kleypas does a kind of two-step around this problem by making it obvious from the beginning that there is some sort of mix-up. We know from the get go that we are going to discover there is a mistake and that Vivien is going to turn out to be as sweet and innocent as she seems. Throughout the book we are left in no doubt that Vivien Duvall is the worst sort of whore (not one with a heart of gold) as she breaks hearts, runs through money, plays with men's affections, is completely full of herself, and (gasp) may have terminated a pregnancy). But I did like that Grant fell in love with the new and improved Vivien before learning that she wasn't in fact Vivien even if I was a little irritated by Vivien's wishy-washiness over Grant's marriage proposal.

Rating: Mediocre in every way, except for the hero whom I love love love, but ultimately a fun and fast little romp.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Goddess of the Hunt

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare

Lucy Waltham is the sheltered and hoydenish sister of Lord Henry Waltham and has missed being presented the last three years because her sister-in-law is incessantly pregnant or dealing with children. When she realizes that Lord Toby, the man she has fancied herself in love with since she was a young child because he has never treated her in the typical condescending manner of older men, is soon to propose to the pampered and beautiful Sophia she determines that she needs to win him over. She believes that the surest way to do this is by seducing him and she wants to practice her wiles on another of her brothers' friends, Jeremy Trescott, the Earl of Kendall. Things don't go precisely as planned and Lucy and Jeremy are both quickly in over their head as everytime the two are together an explosive passion ignites. Despite all evidence to the contrary Lucy is convinced that Toby is the one for her and it isn't until she discovers that Toby's touch doesn't affect her nearly as much as Jeremy's that she realizes she has made a huge mistake. Unfortunately Jeremy is still convinced that Lucy is in love with Toby.

When a hilarious mix-up with a forged letter leads to Lucy's reputation being called into question Jeremy offers for her to ward off any problems. Lucy is quickly coming to recognize that she is falling in love with Jeremy but she thinks that he is only marrying her out of duty and obligation. The two begin their married life off on the wrong foot as Lucy is terrified of growing closer to Jeremy and as Jeremy is increasingly dependent on Lucy to chase away the demons from his past. However he remains scared that his cold demeanor will end up ruining the full-of-life Lucy and so he pushes her away which leads Lucy to believe that he is regretting their marriage. She attempts to become the countess her brother led her to believe Jeremy wanted and this in turn further causes him to believe that he is losing the real Lucy. After Jeremy reveals to her the truth about his family; his brother's death, his father's chilliness and his mother's nervous attacks, Lucy knows that it is time to fight for Jeremy and the happiness she knows they can find together if Jeremy will only let them.

It is very difficult to imagine that this is Dare's debut novel as it is simply amazing. Both Jeremy and Lucy are perfectly well-written, realistic, flawed, damaged, lovable, caring, and ultimately perfect for each other characters. And what makes them so readable is that they recognize all these qualities in themselves and work them so well and together they bring out the best in each other. I have heard complaints that at times Lucy can be a little over-flawed in the way it takes her awhile to recognize her feelings, but I did not find that at all the case- she's superb. Other characters are equally as flawed and yet so likable from Lucy's amazingly inept and still overprotective brother to Lady Sophia, the woman Toby is in love with who fancies herself the center of a grand romance she has yet to find to Albert, the young boy who poaches off Jeremy's land and holds him responsible for his family's troubles. It is remarkable the way she writes these characters and while I know that I shouldn't like some of them because they, at varying times, stand in the way of Lucy's happiness, it's just impossible to dislike any of them.

Other elements of this book are equally perfect. Her writing is beautiful without being overly flowery and there is no need to skim through vast descriptions or unnecessary bits as it's all so eminently readable. There was a wonderful bit of angst and, like all truly great strong heroines Lucy didn't allow herself to wallow in it and instead set her mind to fixing what it was that was causing her unhappiness. I love it when characters do that. And our two protagonists are definitely incredibly attracted to each other and go at each other at nearly every opportunity; in the forest (twice!!), in a large wardrobe, in the bedroom, in a study, and in a hillside cloister. Very hot, as well written as the rest of the book, and a very important part of the actual plot development as it affected and was influenced by the way the characters dealt with their feelings for the other. There were so many scenes in the book that I read and told myself I had to remember so I could mention it in the review as being a must read, but there ended up being too many to actually write about.

Rating: Amazing book, very fun, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel. It wasn't very fast and it wasn't as "fun" as I tend to like in my romance novels. Between 4 and 5.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Simply Scandalous

Simply Scandalous by Tamara Lejeune

When Juliet Waryborn's brother Cary is badly beaten by footpads who claim to be hired by Lord Swale the night before Cary is set to race Swale (in a curricle) Juliet is determined to "avenge" her brother. She humiliates him by beating him in the curricle race and then further damages his reputation when he loses his temper with first her and then later her brother and his friend. Even Swale's father is angered with him and insists he makes ammends to the entire Wayborn family- preferrably by marrying Juliet. However Swale has no intention of marrying the female who humiliating and whom, he is sure, is entirely mannish. Despite his not at all attractive looks and his atrocious temper, which he never can seem to control, Swale thinks of himself as a great catch and thinks he is far to good for such an unladylike lady. He determines to make Juliet fall in love with him and so follows her out to Hertfordshire where she is staying with relatives in the hope that gossip in London dies down. While surprised that she is not what he expected as far as appearance wise he is not at all shocked when her behavior is not exactly welcoming.

Nevertheless the two of them begin to grow on each other and when Swale leaves for London and Juliet for Wayborn Hall they both have trouble keeping their mind on other things. Swale is scared that Juliet will marry her cousin, the very attractive Captain Cary, and Juliet is scared that Swale will marry the horrid Lady Serena, who has already broken several men's hearts and is only after money. And both of Juliet's brothers are determined that the two will not make a match and are joined by Swale's sister Maria who, with Lady Serena in tow, move into the estate next to Wayborn where the two waste no time giving her the cut. When Swale is assigned to watch over Cary Wayborn the two head off to Wayborn Hall where the crazy antics really start. Both Juliet and Swale are convinced the other is going to marry the wrong person and this causes much hilarity to ensue as they each try to both win over the other and play tricks on the family and friends determined to keep them apart. The mistaken intentions aren't cleared up until the very end leaving everything (but not everyone) very satisfactorily.

While I know that everyone has different tastes when it comes to attraction and the opposite sex and romance novels have a wide variety of appearances among the heroines, this book seems to take that a tad to far. Our hero has bright red hair, often unkempt, with long bushy sideburns, a nose described as both ugly and pug as well as a mouthful of crooked teeth. Juliet's appearance isn't as detailed but while it is clear she is not a diamond of the first water she is not at all displeasing to the eye. Later on it does seem as though Juliet begins to like his red hair and comments that she misses it when it is cut and does begin to fantasize about little red-haired children. But the teeth? It must be they're understated attraction to each other that leads to very minimal steam. There is one very very brief (and not sensual at all) kiss and one very fun and well-written sex scene. Despite the very few scenes the book doesn't seem at all lacking because of them and there is more than enough happening in the book that one doesn't really miss them.

Juliet and Swale are amazing characters and so much fun to read about. I was confused about the rapidity with which Swale changed from a tempermental brute to a gentleman determined to control his emotions in order to impress the woman he had fallen in love with as well as how fast the two of them had fallen in love with each other. I guess the way Juliet dealt with her mistaking Swale as the man who beat up her brother and how much Swale had changed for Juliet had something to do with it. The two characters spent a remarkably small amount of time in each other's company and even less just the two of them, but that doesn't stop the banter which is fun and not at all overwhelming. Despite the madcap mixups and numerous cases of mistaken identity, all of which made the book funny, the book wasn't exactly fun or fast to read. Unlike "To Catch a Heiress" the 'mistaken identity' plots (not exactly mistaken identity but mistaken people and intentions) were well written, crazy without being overwhelmingly unrealistic and persisted because the characters talked at cross purposes.

Rating: I certainly enjoyed the book, the characters and the remarkably way that Lejeune has with words. Not exactly everyone's cup of tea, but certainly a great read.